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The Great 'Escape'

Troupe revives the '27 play, touted as fast, funny and relevant.

September 04, 1997|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Nobel Prize winner John Galsworthy, like Somerset Maugham, is known today primarily for his novels, including "The Forsyte Saga" series. But Galsworthy, again like Maugham, was among the top British playwrights of his day. One of the reasons for Galsworthy's renown is the play "Escape," which is being revived at Chandler Studio and opens this weekend.

The 1927 play, like most of Galsworthy's writing, explored and analyzed society of his day.

In "Escape," the central figure, Matt (Joseph Dean Vachon), is a man on the run who in the process finds himself facing various issues of his day, most of which are still vital.

The contemporaneous quality of Galsworthy's work helps explain its appeal today. Why else did artistic director Michael Holmes, decide to revive the play?

"He was involved in social issues and he had a spine, a purpose," he said. "In addition to that, he was well-educated in the theater," which gave Galsworthy both a medium and a form quite different from that used by the novelist in which to express his ideas.

Although "Escape," according to Holmes, is an adventure with a lot of humor, at its core it is a play about social responsibility.

"It's ultimately a plea for the legalization of prostitution," he said, "for cops not getting involved in victimless crimes. . . . It deals with so many issues we're dealing with today, in a very light and breezy way."

Vachon, as the central figure, said that the play's message is that one can't escape one's decent self.

"He keeps running into the problems of society--of us as people, and who we are," Vachon said of his character. "And these victimless crimes, these things that should be decriminalized, things you can't legislate. You may have your personal feelings about them, and you may act upon those, but you can't control them."

"The moral issues are there," Holmes said, "but it's important to know that it's an adventure. It's fast and it's funny."

Vachon said, laughing. "It's like a 1927 action picture."

* "Escape," Chandler Studio, 12443 Chandler Blvd., North Hollywood. Fridays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends Oct. 19. $12.50. (818) 908-4094.

*

Free Theater: When Mark Paskos was a kid, he and his brothers would turn out the lights and listen to the radio.

"We'd just let our imaginations go crazy," Paskos said. He isn't at all happy with today's theater, trying to catch up with movies through special visual effects. Audiences have lost interest in the word, he said.

That's why he started Theatre for the Ear three years ago, in which actors sit on stools before music stands and read plays. The focus is on the interaction between actors and character interpretation.

"Everything is dedicated to the word," Paskos said. "We try to honor the authors whose words we speak. . . . It's just the spoken word and your imagination."

It's almost like radio, and it's free. It happens every Wednesday at North Hollywood's Bitter Truth, with a different program each month. September's plays are Stanley Taikeff's "Dolorosa Sanchez" and Mario Fusillo's "Samantha."

* Theatre of the Ear, Bitter Truth Theatre, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Free. (213) 851-0777.

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